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Together with the Renaissance, which transgressed most of the borders piously respected during the Middle Ages, music experienced a revolutionary transition: polyphony. Trend setters were Dufay and Dunstable. In fact, virtually all the important composers writing in this style emanated from Flanders and the northern portion of France, at that moment still a part of Flanders. Therefore, this period is known as "the age of the Netherlanders", while the French, since they (later) annexed some southern parts of Flanders, including Cambrai, prefer to speak about the "Franco-Flemish age". Quickly, this style spread to northern Italy, southern England, Germany and Poland. In northern Italy, the Flemish musicians --composers, singers and players-- were known as "I Fiamminghi".  In Spain, a group of Flemish musicians most often was called a "Capilla Flamenca". Sometimes, gifted boys were kidnapped to adorn the courts of princes and popes.

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   Guillaume Dufay (Flanders 1397 - Italy 1474)

Along some sources, Du Fay was born in Beersel near Brussels. His mother was Marie du Fayt, his father an unnamed priest. He changed his name from Du Fayt to Dufay probably in the 1420s in Italy. Along other sources, he was born near Cambrai (Kamerijk), at that moment in the county of Flanders, now in France. His name probably was pronounced “du fah-ee”, because sometimes he wrote his name with a  notated Fa between “du” and “y”.

Was a part of a large party of Cardinal Pierre D'Ailly of Cambrai and attended sessions of the Council of Constance (Germany, 1414-18). It was probably there that he met Malatesta.

He became a priest, and spent a considerable portion of his life in Italy, in various cities, and so not only contributed to a refinement in the musical life of bustling Italy, (in Firenze he composed in 1436 the motet  “Nuper rosarum flores” at the consacration of the Dome), but also brought ideas on lively Italian textures to the intellectual centers of Flanders and Germany.

Dufay was one of the most highly regarded composers of his generation, and one of those principally responsible for inaugurating the Renaissance in music, forming the so-called First Netherlands School of composers. He wrote motets that approached the complexity of the style of ars nova as well as chansons in the newer, lighter manner.

Dufay is a contemporary of the English composer John Dunstable  (c. 1390 - 1453), who probably, in the service of the Duke of Bedford during his regency of Paris and governorship of Normandy (between 1423 and 1435) spent some time on the continent.


Gilles Binchois (Gilles de Bins, c.1400-1460)

Binchois was born in Mons, in the southern Netherlands. According to Okeghem's song-motet honoring Binchois at his death, he was also a soldier, and may have been employed by the Earl of Suffolk during the English occupation of France. He joined the Burgundian court choir around 1427. Although he was not ordained as a priest, he became a chaplain. Binchois met with Dufay in 1449 at Mons, and it is likely that they met several times. In 1453, he retired to Soignies, near Mons, on a pension, where he would have worked with Johannes Regis, thought to have been Dufay's clerk. In sources of the period, Binchois's music was the most frequently copied, the most frequently cited, and the most frequently used as the basis for other settings.Binchois is known primarily for his courtly chansons, of which over 60 survive. Typical of his generation, he wrote overwhelmingly in the rondeau form, and all but one of his songs (Filles a marier) are in three parts.


De plus en plus

Jan Ockeghem (also Johannes, Jean, Okeghem, d’Okeghem, Ockenheim, Dendermonde 1430 - Tours, France 1495)

After serving as a choir boy at the cathedral of Antwerp (1443-44), he is said to have become the pupil of Gilles Binchois and Guillaume Dufay. He himself taught Josquin Desprez. He became a priest, and in 1453 assumed the post of chief chanter at the Court of Charles VII of France, where he became choir-master. He travelled through Europe from Flanders to Spain, but most of his time was spent in Tours where he acted as treasurer of the church of St. Martin until his death.

At first he followed his predecessors and teachers in his manner writing, but eventually introduced the principle of free imitation in the various voices of his compositions. Previously the strict canon was the ideal contrapuntal form, but he introduced the practice of allowing every new voice to enter freely on any interval and at any distance from the initial note of the original theme. The innovation was epoch making and of the greatest consequence in the development of the a cappella style. The new principle inaugurated an unprecedented era of activity with Ockeghem's disciples, chief among whom were Josquin Desprez, Pierre de la Rue, Antoine Brumel, Jean Ghiselin, Antoine and Robert de Fevin, Jean Mouton, Jacob Obrecht, etc.

Considered the leader of the second generation of Flemish composers, he made highly influential contributions to imitative counterpoint in sacred music.

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   Anthony Busnois (Busne, now France 1430 - Bruges 1492)

In the early sicties he works at St. Martin’s Church in Tours, with Ockeghem, but in 1467 he was a singer in the service of Charles the Bold of Burgundy. He may have visited Italy in the 1480s -- his chansons are often found in Italian sources -- and spent his last years as choirmaster at Sint Salvator Church, Bruges.


Johannes Regis (c.1425-1496)

A Flemish composer of whom very little is known, yet who was obviously very highly regarded in his time. He combined the rhythmic energy characteristic of the early 15th century with the lyrical imitative counterpoint coming into vogue in the years after 1450, these must be counted among the most engaging works of the period. He initiated one of the first approaches to writing in five voices.

Johannes Tinctoris (c.1435-c.1511)

Johannes Tinctoris was one of the most important theoretical figures of the early Renaissance, and a fine composer besides. His surviving output consists of four masses, four motets and nine secular pieces.

Josquin Desprez  (orig. Jossequin Lebloitte, Dutch Bloet,"blood", dit Desprez, Condé-sur-l'Escaut, now France, c.1440-1521)

At an early age he became choir boy in the collegiate church of Saint-Quentin in his native town in teh south of the Netherlands. After his voice changed he studied counterpoint under Ockeghem. He was not employed by the Sforza in Milan (this thesis resulted from a confusion of Desprez with Jodocus de Frantia), nor do we know if he dwelled in Milan. Anyway, in 1480, in the service of Lorenzo the Magnificent, he worked in Florence. From 1486 to 1494, Josquin was a member of the papal choir under Pope Innocent VIII. He then entered the service of King Louis XII of France. (biographical notes reviewed by Gianfranco Prini, Milano, 1/04)

Desprez dominated the musical world of his time, not only on account of his learning and skill but particularly because of his originality. His vivid conception of the meaning and dramatic possibilities of the sacred texts, as well as his great inventiveness, enabled Josquin to free himself more than any other composer before Palestrina from the conventions of his time. In consequence, most of the works of Deprez show the storm and stress of a transition period, in contrast to the productions of his successor, Palestrina, which breathe serenity and repose.

Martin Luther, who had a good knowledge of music, said of Josquin Desprez, "he alone is the master of the notes, they have to do as he bids them." Indeed, Josquin was acknowledged by nearly all his contemporaries as the greatest composer of his time. If so, he stands as the first among many great musicians, for the composers of what we often term the Netherlands School created one of the richest periods in Western musical history. His contemporaries created a style of music that can rightly be compared to the art of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.

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Mille Regrets

Deploration of Jan Ockeghem

Johannes Stockem (also Stokem, Joannes De Pratis, Stokkem near Brussels c. 1440 - 1500, )

This Flemish composer was a papal singer in 1487-88; later worked as choirmaster at the brilliant Hungarian court at Buda. His chansons appeared in Petrucci's anthologies; he was respected by his contemporaries as a composer, and was a friend and correspondent of Tinctoris. (more) (more)

Alexander Agricola (orig. Sander Ackerman, Ghent 1446 - Valladolid, Spain, 1506)

He was born an illegitimate son of a wealthy Ghent businesswoman. The first concrete reference to Alexander as a musician is from Cambrai in 1476. Later on he worked at Firenze for Laurence de Medici. Then he stayed at Brussels, where he succeeded Busnois. He moved with the court of Burgundy to Spain where he died a few years later, from a fever.

He was highly esteemed by his contemporaries, including  Josquin and Heinrich Isaac, and aftterwards was called “magnificus” and even “divinus” by the historians of the 17th century. (more)

O Venus bant

Jacob Obrecht (also Jacobus Obertus, c.1450-1505)

He was ordained as a priest in 1480. He wrote an early four-part setting of the St. Matthew Passion. He held important church music positions in Cambrai, Bruges and Antwerp. In 1487 he spent a short time in Ferrara, Italy, in the service of the duke Ercole I d’Este. He returned to Ferrara in 1504 and died there a year later from the plague.

His sacred music combined the polyphony of Johannes Ockeghem with folk elements. Obrecht's works include 24 masses, 22 motets, chansons, and his famous Passion  According to St. Matthew. His work shows some emotional characteristics foreshadowing the expressive art of Orlandus Lassus. (more)


Heinrich Isaac (Hugo, he called himself Ugo de Flandria, Brabant 1450 - Firenze 1517) )

Though Isaac was born in Flanders, the first definite reference to him is in Innsbruck (1484) en route for Florence to enter the service of Lorenzo de' Medici. In Florence Isaac sang in the Cantori di S Giovanni and was regularly employed at the cathedral from 1485. After the death of Lorenzo (1492) Isaac met Maximilian I, and in 1497 became his court composer. While in the emperor's employ he maintained his Florentine connections and eventually resettled there in 1514.

Among his best-known works is the collection of 99 four-part settings of the proper chants of the mass known as Choralis Constantinus, a monumental collection of Gregorian liturgical music. He also wrote many motets, masses, hymns, and secular songs.

Isaac was one of the few Flemish composers active in Germany, hence his germanized name Heinrich. He wrote a wide range of music; among his Masses, motets, German lieder, Italian songs, and instrumental pieces, his Choralis constantinus (1550-55), a posthumous collection of Mass propers, stands out as a monumental achievement. Isaac contributed considerably to the Tenorlied, as his skilful settings of "Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen" demonstrate. (more)


Adriaen Willaert (also Adrian, Bruges c. 1485 - Venice 1562)

He is born at Bruges or at  Roeselare, between 1480 and 1490. He is taught in Paris by Jean Moulin, disciple of Josquin Deprez, and first went to Rome in 1516, then to Ferrara, after which he entered the service of King Louis II of Bohemia and Hungary. In 1527 he accepted the post of choir master of St. Mark's at Venice.

Although grounded in the principles of contrapuntal art, Willaert soon fell under the influence of the new tendency, developing in Florence and elsewhere in Italy, to make the harmonic element predominate over the melodic.

As there were two choir lofts, one of each side of the main altar of St. Mark's, both provided with an organ, he started writing music for two alternating choirs. This innovation met with instantaneous success and strongly influenced the development of the new method. Willaert is regarded the founder of the Venetian school. He left a large number of compositions: masses, psalms, motets, madrigals, for from four to seven voices.

Philip van Wilder (c. 1495-1557)

Philip van Wilder, a native of Flanders, was a composer and lutenist, resident in England after 1525. He became the favorite musician of King Henry VIII of England, the lute teacher to the future Queen Mary in 1529 and the King's lutenist in 1538. He was Keeper of the Instruments at Westminster when Henry died in 1547. He achieved considerable wealth and influence as courtier to the English kings, but was largely forgotten soon after his death.

Two of his sacred pieces are in the Gyffard partbooks; he is also represented in several Continental anthologies. Church music, lute pieces and In nomines survive in MS. An anonymous keyboard setting of his 'Je file' is in 'Lord Middleton's Lute Book' in Nottingham University Library.

Jacob Arcadelt (c.1500-1568)

Although from Flemish origin, this composer spent much of his life in Italy. After a brief trip to Florence, he sang tenor in the Cappella Giulia, Rome, and was master of the boys there in 1539. He was a singer in the Papal choir in the 1540s and early 1550s, after which he returned north to Paris with Charles of Lorraine, Duc de Guise; in 1555 he had the title 'regius musicus'.

Arcadelt was perhaps the most important of the northern composers who settled in Italy at the time when the madrigal was developing. As a distinguished polyphonist, he brought a contrapuntal element to the song-like chordal Italian style to produce madrigals of balance and polish. His first book (1539) was reprinted more than thirty times over a period of more than a century; it was this that contained the famous (and beautiful) Il bianco e dolce cigno. This illustrates the melodic poise of Arcadelt's madrigals; others show his sensitive use of harmonic coloring and the dissonances characteristic of Franco-Flemish polyphony. His output also included Masses, motets and chansons. (more) (more)

Ave Maria

Tilman Susato (or Tielman, Germany 1500? - Antwerp, 1564?)

German printer, publisher and composer. Worked in Antwerp from 1529 as a copyist, cathedral musician and later town instrumentalist; founded his publishing business in 1543 with a volume of 4- and 5-part chansons; the venture was so successful that he was able to build his own premises ('At the Sign of the Crumhorn') in 1547. He issued chansons, songs, and motets by the most illustrious composers -- Janequin, Josquin, Lassus, Rore, Willaert -- and his chanson anthologies include a wide cross-section of the genre's development in the Low Countries and France. His dance arrangements showed taste and discernment, using popular songs, dance tunes and chanson adaptations, and preserving a modicum of independent part-writing.

"Het ierste musyck boexken" Tilman Susato, Antwerpen 1551, "28 nieuwe amoreuse liedekens" with 4 voices, by composers including Antonius Barbe, Josquin Baston, Lupus Hellinck, Gheerkin de Hondt, Tilman Susato, Carolus Souliaert, Jheronimus Vinders.

Alemande 5 (from Danserye)

Jacob van Berchem (also Jacquet de Berchem,  Jachet, not to confound with Jacquet de Mantua, a French contemporary also working in northern Italy, Berchem near Antwerp 1505 - Monopoli near Firenze, Italy1567)

Born in Berchem, a suburb of Antwerp. In 1530 we fin him, active, in Venice, at the "school" odf Adrian Willaert. In 1546 started as Chapel Master at teh Dome of Verona. He stays in Naples for some time, and collaborates with Arcadelt in Firenze. In 1553 he marries for the second time, with the nobelwoman Giustina de Simeonibus (or Simionibus), the rich widow of Dionisio Serpente (with whom she had already a daughter Beatrice). A daughter is born to him and Giustina, Hersilia, and a son Lamberto, becoming canon at the Dome (of Monopoli) and patron for much religious music of his father.

Best known are his madrigals: "Primo, secondo et terzo libro del capriccio (1561).

O Jesu Christe

Clemens Non Papa (Jacob Clement, c.1510-1555/1556)

His first published work is a chanson issued by Attaingnant in 1536. Bruges Cathedral employed him as succentor, 1544-45. Motet texts suggest a connection with Charles V between 1544 and 1549. Beginning in 1545 Tilman Susato, in Antwerp, published many of his works, of which only six chansons had previously appeared in print. Little else is known of his life.

One of the most prolific composers of the early l6th century, Clemens wrote both sacred and secular music but is chiefly known for the sacred works. These include fifteen Masses, two Mass fragments, over 230 motels, two Magnificats, and 159 souterliedekens and lofzangen (3-part polyphonic settings of the Psalms in Dutch, all based on preexisting melodies). The secular works include 89 chansons, eight Dutch songs, and several textIess or instrumental pieces. (more)

   Cypriano de Rore,  (also Cypriaan, Cyprien, Malines 1515 - Parma 1565)

He studied in Antwerp, and in 1536 we find him in Venice (singing in the San Marco Cathedral), and studying with Adriaen Willaert. In 1547 he started working in Ferrara, working for the Duke. One of his pupils there was Giaches de Wert. Around 1560, back in Flanders, he worked some years at the court of Duchess Margaret of Parma at Brussels, and later at Parma. He succeeded Adriaen Willaert from 1562 in Venice, assisted by Donato, but for financial reasons went back to Parma two years later. He died the next year.

He is renown for his religious as well as his profane music (madrigals). His Tutti i madrigali a quattro voci (1577), published after his death, was the first musical publication with the nowadays traditional choral notation style. Emmanuel Adriaenssen (1584) made many orchestral (lute) versions of his songs. And 50 years after his death Pierre Maillart, in his Tons et discours sur les Modes de Musique (1610) quoted him amongst the 4 greatest Flemish madrigalists.

La belle contrade d'oriente


Philippus de Monte (also Philippe, Philip, Filips van den Berghe, Malines 1521 - Prague1603)

He song in the Cathedral of Malines as a boy. He worked for several royal and rich families, starting at Naples (1542-1551). His first compositions are from 1554. He was friends with Orlandus Lassus, after having met him in Antwerp. As prefect of the Royal Choir of Madrid he went to England with King Philip II of Spain, married to Mary Tudor (1554-1555), and became friends with  William Byrd; they dedicated compositions to other. He spent some time in Italy, and eventually became Kapellmeister at the imperial court at Vienna and Prague (1568-1603). But he made several long stays in Flanders, to recruit the best singers. During this period he was appointed treasurer and then canon of the Cathedral of Cambrai in the south of the Netherlands. He was buried in St Jakub's Cathedral in Prague.

He wrote religious (50 masses, 300 motets, etc.) and profane (30 somg boooks with 1200 pieces in 4-7 voices, Sonnets of Ronsard, etc.) music sounds abundant, of the same kind of Palestrina's. He is one of the 4 Flkemisch musicia considered by Pierre Maillart (1610) as the greatets. Emmanuel Adriaenssen (1584) wrote orchestral versions of his vocal compositions, (more)

Orlandus Lassus (also Roeland de Laet, Roland de Lattre or Lâtre, Mons, 1532 - Munich, Germ., 1594)

At the age of eight and a half years he was admitted as soprano to the choir of the church of St. Nicholas in Mons. He soon attracted general attention, both on account of his unusal musical talent and his beautiful voice; so much so that he was three times abducted. Twice his parents had him returned to the parental roof, but the third time they consented to allow him to take up his abode at St-Didier, the temporary residence of Ferdinand de Gonzaga, general in command of the army of Charles V and Viceroy of Sicily. At the end of the campaign in the Netherlands, Orlandus followed his patron to Milan and from there to Sicily, Naples, Rome and Firenze.

During his residence in Rome, Lassus completed his first volume of Masses for four voices, and a collection of motets for five voices, all of which he had published in Venice. After a sojourn of probably two years in Rome, Lassus, learning of the serious illness of his parents, hastened back to the Netherlands only to find that they had died. His native city Mons not offering him a suitable field of activity, he spent several years in travel through France and England and then settled at Antwerp for about two years, where he published several song books.

There he received an invitation from Albert V, Duke of Bavaria, to become the director of his court chapel, and to recruit capable musicians for it in the Netherlands.

Pope Gregory XIII appointed him Knight of the Golden Spur, Charles IX of France bestowed upon him the cross of the Order of Malta, and Emperor Maximilian raised him and his descendants to the nobility. Lassus's great and long-continued activity finally told on his mind and caused a depression and break-down, from which he at first rallied but never fully recovered.

Lassus was the heir to the centuries of preparation and development of the Netherland school, and was its greatest and also its last representative. His genius is of a universal nature. His wide culture and the extensive travels of his youth had enabled him to absorb the distinguishing musical traits of every nationality. The lyric, epic, and dramatic elements are alternately in evidence in his work. (more)

Io ti vorria

echo song

Joachim van den Hove (also Joachimus, vanden, Antwerp 1567 - The Hague 1620)

He was a lutenist, composer, intabulator and teacher. He published two anthologies of lute music drawing on current vocal models, popular tunes and works of contemporary composers such as Diomedes Cato, John Dowland, Anthony Holborne, John & Robert Johnson and Jacob Polak, often adding divisions and variations of his own. However, around a hundred lute solos ascribed to him survive. Many of the pieces have dates and place names [e.g. Metz, Frankfurt, Venice and Naples] presumably indicating when and where they were collected whilst the composer was travelling through Europe.

Carolus Hacquart  Karel Hacquart (also Carolus, Carel; Hacart, Hakart; Bruges c1640 - The Hague c1701)

Musician and composer. Hacquart was a much-praised player of viol, lute and organ, who also wrote Latin sacred works (Cantiones Sacrae, 1676) and, in 1678, the music for the first Netherlands opera (Chelys). The ten trios and quartet sonatas in Harmonia Parnassia of 1686 are the most important works in his oeuvre.

Modern Flemish Musicians

Edgard Tinel

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Posted on 11 July 2002, on the 700th anniversary of the Batlle of the Golden Spurs, the symbolic Independence Day of Flanders. Latest adaptation 21 May 2005.